Cleaning Up the Clutter

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The area around our fire pit is a bit of a mess. Like, you could lose a small child in there mess. The logs and kindling are semi-stacked/falling to one side. A picnic table sits at one end, its boards crumbling with age. The patio is, well–a little uneven would be a charitable way to put it. We put the stone down ourselves, and straight and flat are not our strong suits.

We’re creatives here, not engineers. Don’t judge.

Last year, I worked hard to pull all the weeds that grow up between the logs and around the table. They were big. Thistles, pokeberries, bindweed—all of it went into the compost.

Then we went on vacation. And after two weeks, we returned to weeds so high they were over my head.

I am not even joking. Jesus please help if we ever forget to weed for over a month. They may never find us.

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Jesus’ story of the soils. We’ve covered the hard soil that refuses to be vulnerable and so never allows others to affect their lives.

We need to soften our hearts with vulnerability to tell a good story.

We’ve covered the rocky soil that refuses to commit and so stays shallow, never allowing Jesus to get in and make changes.

We need to deepen our hearts with involvement to tell a good story.

Now, the weedy soil.

“Other seeds fell among thorns that grew up and choked out the tender plants.”

I’m preaching an entire Advent series on distractions. Clutter. Those things in our lives that do exactly what these weeds do—crowd out the tender, beautiful things of God that are supposed to grow in our lives.

“The seed that fell among the thorns represents those who hear God’s word, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the worries of this life and the lure of wealth, so no fruit is produced.” (Matthew 13)

Is your heart distracted or focused?

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Sometimes, I fear I have a thorny heart. There are so many other options. So many things get the resources that the seeds God plants in my heart need. He offers me the abundant resources of time, money, gifts, talents, people, things, and feelings. (Yes, they are abundant. Whether we believe it or not.) Too often, I squander those wonderful gifts on the things that should be lower on the priorities list.

Time? Booked.

Money? Budgeted.

Talents? Overextended.

Feelings? Already overloaded.

We get so distracted by competing priorities we don’t even notice the tiny plants God has sown into our lives struggling for their share of sun and rain. We’re too busy.

These priorities aren’t always bad, of course. Kids sports are good for them. Grades matter. Work requires our best. Entertainment is needed after a tough day of work, and paying bills, well, things can get a little dicey if we don’t.

The problem isn’t that we are committed to bad things. The problem is that we aren’t committed to the best thing first. When priorities compete, the biggest, loudest, strongest get the most attention. The weeds win. If I didn’t weed my garden, the weeds would always win. The same is true in our lives.

We’re always attracted to the shiny, the attention-seekers. The thing is, God’s kingdom isn’t usually shiny and loud. It’s usually quiet. It’s everyday. it’s about showing up and keeping on, and that can’t compete with the things that promise us all we’ve ever wanted.

The promise is:

We’ll be good parents if our kids are busy and get to do all the things other kids do.

We’ll be secure if we work enough to have a cushion in the bank.

We’ll be liked if we know all the shows and all the music and all the Facebook news everyone else does.

We’ll be important if we look busy.

We need to do a prairie burn of our lives so that good things get first crack at the sunshine.

Seek first the kingdom of God.

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If we seek everything else first and then hope there will be room for the kingdom in our lives? We’re going to harvest thorns. We won’t even be able to find God in all the clutter. But if we seek the kingdom first? Jesus says he will add all the important things we truly need.

Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. (Matthew 6.33)

Everything. That we need.

Do you know what the tragic result is from all of our busyness and distraction? Did you notice that last line of the story?

“No fruit is produced.”

Fruit is the good story we tell with our lives. It’s all about the fruit. That’s the reason God left us here instead of winging us up out of this craziness the moment we got saved. We’re here to produce fruit. And distracted people don’t. It’s so clear in Jesus’ words that it’s tragic.

I think this may be the most common soil of all of them, which means I may be guilty. The world is so distracting and the kingdom so quiet.

Maybe these questions sounds familiar to you:

Why aren’t I joyful?

Why don’t I feel content?

Why are my finances always a mess?

Why is my schedule always nuts?

Why is life so hard?

It could be the answer to all of them is the same—we’ve let the weeds choke out the goodness and simplicity of the kingdom. We’ve made God’s good seeds compete, and they are losing.

We need to declutter our hearts with focus to tell a good story.

Seek first the kingdom of God.

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What do you need to weed out of your life? What do you need to focus on? Christmas and a new year are good times to get quiet, look at or priorities, and ask ourselves—am I seeking first the kingdom of God? Does it look like I am when I look at my list of activities? What seeds Is God trying to plant in my heart, and what is it going to take to give them some air and sunshine?

Good stories change us for the better.

People who are changed tell good stories.

We can’t tell a good story with a cluttered life. Decluttering our hearts brings out our best story.

Going Deep

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Last week, we began talking about Jesus’ story of the soils. It’s part of a series on Jesus’ stories and how to be good storytellers with out lives. You can read the intro here.

The basic idea is this:

Good stories change us for the better.

People who are changed tell good stories.

More than anything, it seems, people want to tell good stories with their lives. So shouldn’t we want to hear the stories of the one who most people agree was the best at that? I do.

Jesus told his listeners about a farmer who tossed seed around—some on a hard path, some on rocky soil, some amid weeds, and some on good, fertile soil. This week, let’s talk a little about those rocks.

“Other seeds fell on shallow soil with underlying rock.”

You can guess what’s going to happen here, right?

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We have a bare spot in our garden, right along the driveway. Every so often, I decide to put a plant there. I shove the transplant spade into the dirt. And it stops, abruptly. Under that bare spot is a slab of rock, not an inch and a half down. I always forget it’s there. But the shovel reminds me with its jolt, and I know I cannot plant anything in that place. It’s roots will never grow deep enough to survive, especially in the dry, tree-root ridden soil along our driveway.

Rocks are not usually conducive for growth. The only things that grow among rocks are small plants that don’t have much for roots. (I know—things with giant taproots do as well—but that’s another theological truism.)

The seed on the rocky soil represents those who hear the message and immediately receive it with joy. But since they don’t have deep roots, they don’t last long. They fall away as soon as they have problems or are persecuted for believing God’s word. (Matthew 13.20-21)

Shallow Soil Produces a Shallow Story

I have known so many of these people. They react immediately to hearing inspirational messages. They are all in. The emotional high grabs them, and they want to spring up and sign up as God’s right hand, right now.

Then life happens. The heat gets turned up. The high is gone, and life returns to so very . . . normal. I start to hear things like,“That’s not what I signed up for.” “I didn’t expect this.” “Well, God’s not working for me anymore.”

God ends up like a fire alarm in the hallway of their lives—pull in case of emergency, but otherwise, he stays behind the glass.

The ones whose faith lands on rocky soil never develop deep roots.

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Is your heart shallow or deep?

To tell a good story with our lives, we need deep hearts.

A story without depth is boring. If a plotline never gets beyond small demands and low risk, who really wants to read it? Who’s going to option the movie rights on the tale that never embroils its hero in anything interesting?

If Frodo just FedExed the ring to Mordor, no one would care.

The story happens in the difficult moments. Characters are created in the hot sun. When drought hits, we know which people we want to watch until the end.

The ones who have shown depth of heart.

The kingdom of God thrums a heartbeat of deep, messy, thoughtful life. The ones who see the demands, the depth, and then opt out have forfeited the opportunity to grow deep hearts.

I know that choice. It’s tempting to look at the heartbeat of the kingdom and think, “That’s too much. That passion would ask more than I can give. Feeling the things that break Jesus’ heart could break mine. Pull back. Pull back.”

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I made that choice long enough, settling for rocky soil and a heart that went to a certain level and no farther. Then, Jesus forced me to see with his eyes.

What do you see when you get eye to eye with a lonely elderly person? When you visit an addict in the hospital? When you listen to an immigrant or refugee tell her story? When you really get a look at hurricane devastation on an island unable to recover for itself? I know what you see.

You see Jesus looking back. You see yourself in a way you’ve never seen you. And you like it.

Because here’s the thing—we’re created to be more than skin deep. There’s a cost to skating the surface. It seems easier — we’re too busy. Too overwhelmed. Remaining shallow-hearted is survival, that’s all.

But the cost is our soul. Deep hearts are real hearts. Broken hearts are alive.

We need to deepen our hearts with involvement to tell a good story.

What will you risk this week to grow deep?

Five things to always apologize for

Love means often having to say you’re sorry.
Just not for this.
Last week I declared a moratorium on ten things I’ll never apologize for again. (See that post here.)


It’s freeing to realize we do not have to apologize for a lot of the things we’e spent too much of our lives apologizing for. But hold the reins. Or whatever analogy suits you. I, personally, don’t really do horses. I think it has something to do with the one that tried to knock me off her back with a tree branch when I was eight. Still have equine trust issues.

So—insert your metaphor here that means—wait a minute.

There is such a thing as too free. For instance, feel free to run around your house alone in whatever state of dress you prefer. But gong to Target like that is another matter completely. (Walmart–now there you might be able to get away with it.)

Contrary to inexplicably popular 70’s movies, love does NOT mean never having to say you’re sorry. In fact, love means saying it often. Over and over. Because loving people up close means we’ll have conflict and miscommunication, confusion and badly applied good intentions, and mornings without enough caffeine before opening our mouths. And we’ll have to apologize.

So a new list this week.

Five things I hope I will always apologize for.

Because there is always time to chaperone a class
trip to Orlando. Always. And there is never one
more baby of the family to do it with.

Telling people I’m too busy. With what? For what? What on earth am I doing that’s more important than that person who wants my attention or presence? The Bible says to store up our treasures in heaven (Matthew6.19-21). You know what is in heaven? People. Not our job, our computer, or our zumba class. PEOPLE. They are our treasure. I need to act like it.


It’s too easy to put my agenda first without even hearing what someone is asking. Hearing sometimes requires pulling away from me and listening at a level beyond words. Life will be too busy until you die, but only if you let it be .

I can’t I can’t possibly. I just…can’t.
Oh wait. I can.

Saying I can’t. Yes, I did say just last week I would no longer apologize for not explaining why I can’t do something. But this is different. What I’m talking about is saying “I can’t” when what I really mean is, “I don’t want to take the time.“ “It’s a bother.” “I’m too afraid.” I may not choose to explain why I can’t do something, but I always want to think about why I don’t believe I can.


Because sometimes, I can. And I’m sacrificing something or someone to cover up for my fear or apathy. It isn’t so much, “I’m sorry but I can’t.” It’s “I’d rather think about my own selfish self right now, thank you very much.” Ugh. I’m tired of my own selfish self. That person isn’t very good company. I want to say yes more than I say no  .

That talking without thinking thing. Did I mention I can be a trifle . . . sarcastic? In fact, most of us do think before we use words that are hurtful. Then we go ahead and do it anyway.

Because of the latest Supreme Court decision, I’ve already read several diatribes this week using hateful, cruel language to describe people who don’t agree with the writer. They have to know some of the people they call “friends” belong in the group they’re describing–and hurting. But personal opinion and need to be right trump those feelings.

I need to say “sorry” for the times I disregard those feelings in my need to say something witty, or right, or judgmental. It’s not OK just because I believe it.

It’s easy to say, “They were only words, and they’re probably forgotten.” But probably not, because words burn themselves into our souls, and words like “I’m sorry” can tweeze hurt out and heal the scar . Why is it so easy to launch verbal Laser Weapon Systems and so very difficult to say “I’m sorry”?

Because sometimes, life is messy.

Being a bad example. Too many years of my life got spent trying to be the shining example of perfect mom, wife, and Christian. Time I could have saved by admitting earlier I couldn’t even manage a glimmer some days much less a shine. 


You know when my ministry with other people really begin to matter? When I started saying things like, “I seriously screwed up! You too? OK, why don’t we put our messes together and see what God can do to redeem it all?”

Could I please go back and apologize to all the people who saw the “I know what I’m doing all the time and, also, I know what you should be doing and how you should be doing it” woman and tell them I’m really, really sorry? And could someone smack me the next time I slip into that?

Playing the Please-Blame-Anyone-But-Me game. You know what? It’s so much more work to figure out twenty ways someone else is at fault. It takes real effort to manipulate why I’m not really responsible for the thing I clearly am. I wish I had figured this out a long time ago.

It takes three seconds to say, “Yep, I should have known better, I’m sorry” and about three days to keep defending myself with many, many creative maneuvers. It’s only scary to think about saying, “Sorry—my fault.” It’s not so bad to do it. And be done. People respect you more, too. Trust me. People know when you’re making up excuses. They really do.

Your turn again. What have you learned that we really do need to say “sorry” for? And keep saying it? And not be afraid to?